The Three Biggest Takeaways From the ‘X-Men ’97’ Season 1 Finale

‘X-Men ’97’ successfully built on the legacy of ‘X-Men: The Animated Series,’ setting up Season 2 while potentially laying the groundwork for future animated revivals

Disney+/Ringer illustration

Through the first few episodes of X-Men ’97, the revival appeared to be a worthy successor to X-Men: The Animated Series, infusing nostalgia for the beloved Saturday morning cartoon into a fresh take on Marvel’s popular mutant heroes. Much like its predecessor, X-Men ’97 could provide emotional, character-driven stories with healthy portions of thrilling action sequences for a fun watch that could be experienced in under 30 minutes. And then the fifth episode aired.

Episode 5, “Remember It,” begins with an idyllic reintroduction to the mutant safe haven Genosha, demonstrating how much progress had been made on Professor Xavier’s dream for mutant-human coexistence. But by the end of the episode, Genosha gets annihilated. An upgraded Master Mold and its legion of robot Sentinels kill thousands of mutants (with Magneto seemingly among them), and Gambit sacrifices himself in an explosion that destroys the monstrous Master Mold in the process. The episode ends as Rogue holds Gambit’s corpse in her arms, the screen fading to black as she says, “Sugar, I can’t feel you.”

“Remember It” is a shocking, devastating installment that stands as one of the best episodes of TV that Marvel Studios has produced to date. It upended all expectations of what a Marvel Studios animated series could be, not to mention how far X-Men ’97 would be willing to go. The series had already featured its fair share of surprises to that point, including the temporary loss of Storm’s powers and the reveal that Jean Grey had been cloned by Mister Sinister a long time ago. Still, the deaths of a significant character and several minor ones in the span of 10 heart-racing minutes raised the bar for the remainder of the season. The series’ greatest villain, Magneto, is proved to have been right about humanity all along, and fan favorite Gambit is killed among many innocent mutants, displaying how much darker this revival project would be than the original.

X-Men ’97 finished its terrific first season on Wednesday with the conclusion of its three-episode story arc “Tolerance Is Extinction.” After a brief reprieve in the sixth episode, when the series revealed that Xavier was still alive in distant space and chronicled Storm’s journey to regain her mutant abilities, the final four chapters of the season resumed the show’s unrelenting pace, carrying it into this week’s extended 43-minute finale (including credits). As the X-Men face off against Bastion and protect the entire planet from Magneto’s crashing Asteroid M, the latest episode caps off the remarkable efforts of creator Beau DeMayo, director Jake Castorena, and the rest of the X-Men ’97 team to not just honor the legacy of X-Men: TAS, but also put together one of the best X-Men adaptations ever created.

Here are my main takeaways from the first season and its finale and predictions for what’s in store for the series in Season 2.

Building on the Legacy of X-Men: The Animated Series

Screenshots via Disney+

Before X-Men: TAS premiered in 1992 and became a cornerstone of Fox’s Fox Kids programming block, the show’s creators faced a number of challenges that went beyond the series’ limited budget and quick production turnarounds. As X-Men: TAS showrunner Eric Lewald writes in Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series, the broadcast standards and practices for network TV were tighter in 1992 than today and far stricter for content produced for children.

The usual network kid-show list of rules looked like this: “No blood. No punches to the face. No realistic weapons. No putting anyone under 12 in any physical jeopardy. No one can be killed. No hint of anything sexual. No one can get knocked out—it implies a damaging blow to the head. Find ways to resolve differences without violence. Don’t let heroes act out of vengeance (without negative consequences). Don’t let a person be in deadly jeopardy before the commercial break (gotta show he is safe first). Don’t even use the words kill, die, or death.” We shouldn’t have been surprised that the first notes we received made it seem like we were going to be making a Western TV series with no guns or horseback riding allowed.

X-Men: TAS pushed the boundaries of what could be shown in a children’s TV show, integrating adult themes and concepts in the X-Men’s adventures to bend these rules to their breaking point. More than 25 years after its conclusion, X-Men ’97 continues its predecessor’s story and builds on its legacy while not being limited by many of the challenges Lewald and Co. dealt with back then. With its remarkable action sequences and heightened violence (even if not as gruesome as Invincible’s), X-Men ’97 makes full use of its higher budget and new home on Disney+.

Across the first season’s 10 episodes, X-Men ’97 strikes a delicate balance of picking up where X-Men: TAS left off without being too inaccessible for first-time viewers who missed the original series. Part of that calculus is perhaps owed to the growth of the X-Men’s popularity since the original animated series, with more than 10 live-action X-Men movies (and spinoffs) having been released since then. (You wouldn’t need to have watched X-Men: TAS’s five-part “Phoenix Saga” to know about Jean Grey’s history as the all-powerful Phoenix ahead of the return of the cosmic force in this week’s finale.) Yet X-Men ’97 seamlessly works in story lines and character developments from X-Men: TAS, using familiar villains like Mister Sinister and Master Mold to help introduce Bastion, a new threat who effectively ties together the X-Men’s past and harrowing future.

The finale, “Tolerance Is Extinction—Part 3,” is the culmination of themes and central conflicts that date back to the beginning of the original series. Bastion himself is the next evolutionary step in the ongoing war between humans and mutants: a human-machine hybrid who personifies the robot threat that opened X-Men: TAS in “Night of the Sentinels.” Magneto and Xavier’s ancient rivalry reaches a boiling point: Magneto creates a worldwide blackout and rips the adamantium out of Wolverine’s body, and Xavier invades Magneto’s consciousness to hijack his abilities and repair the planet’s electromagnetic field, nearly destroying both of their minds in the process. (This incident may also set up the Season 2 emergence of Onslaught, a formidable villain born from the worst parts of Magneto’s and Xavier’s combined psyches.) And even as humanity fails the mutants of the world once again, Cyclops and the X-Men follow Xavier’s teachings to save them all (once again) instead of going down the path of vengeance.

Like X-Men: TAS did before it, X-Men ’97 continues to mine the comics’ famous story lines, such as “Operation: Zero Tolerance” and “Fatal Attractions.” And with decades of new source material to pull from, the narrative possibilities in the seasons to come are nearly limitless.

Marvel Cameos

Stories set in a shared universe of superpowered beings tend to run into an unavoidable narrative question when a catastrophic event occurs and only one or a few superheroes are there to respond to it: Where are the other heroes? In Marvel’s case, this question is often aimed in particular at the Avengers, whose collective might and resources should theoretically help neutralize any threat without the need for a lone superhero or group to face it on their own. It’s the double-edged sword that comes with creating an interconnected universe like the MCU, as the potential for character crossover becomes an opportunity but also a narrative loophole for filmmakers and creators to either interact with or ignore altogether.

While this can pose a challenge for Marvel’s live-action projects, which have to consider the production schedules and costs tied to featuring big-name actors, X-Men ’97 showcases the freedom that comes with animation. The series sprinkles in cameos from Marvel heroes and villains alike across its first season before opening up the floodgates in this week’s finale as the confrontation with Bastion comes to a head. Iron Man and a returning Captain America can be seen protecting the president of the United States. Daredevil is on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen fighting off Bastion’s Sentinels. Doctor Strange is at the operating table performing surgery with his mystic arts. Even Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are watching the apocalyptic news together on the streets of New York, reuniting the couple to resolve a decades-old cliff-hanger from Spider-Man: The Animated Series.

Those are far from the only Marvel characters who appear in this final act in the “Tolerance Is Extinction” story arc, as X-Men ’97 weaves together the mutants and superhumans of the world on a scale hardly ever seen outside the pages of the comics. These cameos act as great bits of fan service, but they also raise the stakes of the conflict, contextualizing how far-reaching and severe the present danger is. It shows how connected this universe of superheroes really is while also distinguishing where the X-Men fit into it.

As President Robert Kelly’s advisers and other world leaders urge him to strike down the hurtling Asteroid M and initiate the so-called Magneto Protocol, Wakanda’s King T’Chaka (T’Challa’s father and the Black Panther in the X-Men ’97 timeline) stands in opposition. “Robert, vote yes, and you best pray our children read their textbooks more than their bibles,” T’Chaka says. “For only history could be conned into forgiving us.”

Captain America agrees with the Wakandan ruler, but President Kelly moves forward with the missile strike all the same, regardless of what impact it could have on innocent mutants—and Captain America accepts his decision in silent shame. Just as X-Men ’97 showed in Captain America’s Episode 7 appearance (much to the dismay of some viewers), there is a clear division between mutants like the X-Men—who have long stood as a metaphor for marginalized groups in society—and the other superheroes of the world, whom humans embrace with open arms.

X-Men ’97 continues a tradition of cameos and crossovers started by X-Men: TAS. “It’s exactly the same level of cameos as the original series,” executive producer Brad Winderbaum told Variety. “Even though X-Men ’97 is not in the sacred timeline, there is a universe of ’90s cartoons that we know. Because of Loki and every other multiverse story, we know that if your brain wants to go there, you know there’s always potential for connections.”

Given the critical success of the series and its strong viewership numbers relative to other Disney+ animated shows, X-Men ’97 could start a trend of revivals for Marvel’s ’90s animated series on the streamer. (John Semper Jr., head writer of Spider-Man: The Animated Series, has publicized his interest in a reboot centered on the webhead, and X-Men ’97 has opened the door for it. But studio politics between Sony and Marvel Studios, as well as the impending arrival of another Spider-Man animated series, could prove to be complicating factors.) At the very least, episodes like “Tolerance Is Extinction—Part 3” demonstrate the crossover potential that X-Men ’97 and the rest of the Marvel universe should have in the coming seasons.

Season 2 and Beyond

After Magneto and the X-Men manage to stop Asteroid M before it collides with Earth, the entire space station disappears into thin air, along with everyone else on it. As the shock settles in among the remaining X-Men, including Forge and Jubilee, the episode ends with a number of cliff-hangers and clues hinting at where Season 2 is headed.

Six months pass after the incident now known as E-Day, and the whereabouts of the X-Men remain a mystery to the public. Forge appears to be the lone mutant left at the deserted X-Mansion as he searches for other mutants to carry on the X-Men’s legacy. Bishop appears for the first time since he traveled to the future with baby Nathan Summers in the third episode and introduces himself to the present-day Forge, reestablishing the relationship between the two mutants that was first introduced in X-Men: TAS.

“Something, or someone, yanked our friends through time, and now we gotta go rescue the X-Men,” Bishop tells Forge.

(On a wall of faces reminiscent of the famous Days of Future Past cover art, the only mutants shown as available are Colossus, Dust, Magik, Iceman, Havok, Exodus, Shadowcat, and Emma Frost. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are listed as “off world,” potentially teasing their connections to the Avengers, while X-Men ’97 regulars Cable, Jubilee, and Sunspot are all marked as “AWOL.” Any of these details could be previewing who might be important in Season 2.)

The finale goes even further, revealing exactly how far into the past or future the majority of the missing X-Men traveled. Xavier, Magneto, Rogue, Beast, and Nightcrawler were all sent to Egypt in 3000 BC, while Cyclops and Jean Grey were thrust into an undetermined location in AD 3960. The first group meets En Sabah Nur, the young version of the mutant who will become the iconic X-Men villain Apocalypse, and Cyclops and Jean find a young Cable with a woman known as Mother Askani, who is secretly their daughter in an alternate timeline in the comics. X-Men: TAS featured a lot of time traveling across its five seasons, and X-Men ’97 had already included some via Bishop and Cable in earlier episodes. But it looks like Season 2 is about to take time travel to a whole new level, and things may only get weirder from here. (Such is life for the X-Men; Forge’s response to a stranger’s absurd assertion about the X-Men’s time travel was simply “Hmm,” followed by a smirk.)

In the lone post-credits scene of the season, “Tolerance Is Extinction—Part 3” concludes with Apocalypse himself, who is standing in the rubble of present-day Genosha. “So much pain, my children,” Apocalypse says, picking up a burned playing card that belonged to Gambit. “So much death.” While Apocalypse is clearly being positioned as the main villain of Season 2, this final tease also sets up Gambit’s fateful return as one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, Death; the fallen mutant will likely soon be reborn and turned against his X-Men.

The season finale lays a lot of groundwork for Season 2, but the future of the series beyond it remains uncertain. DeMayo, who did a tremendous job leading the way on X-Men ’97, has already finished writing the first two seasons of the series as part of his apparent five-season vision. But in March the X-Men ’97 creator was fired just weeks before the series premiere, for reasons that have not been publicized. Winderbaum recently said that Season 2’s production is already underway and that development on Season 3 would be starting “very soon.”

It remains to be seen who will fill in for DeMayo and how much the series’ quality will be affected without a key creative behind Season 1. But with the X-Men rejoining the ranks of the rest of the Marvel universe after being siloed into their self-contained 20th Century Fox stories for years, Marvel fans have a lot to be excited for.

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